Unfortunately, the Polish-born Peres's life did not display such a capacity. Many Palestinians and Lebanese suffered and died because of him. Considering his prominent role in the founding of the self-declared State of the Jewish People, this should go without saying. Israel was established largely by Europeans on land from which three-quarters of a million Muslim and Christian Palestinian Arabs were expelled. Others were massacred by Zionist paramilitary forces, one of which Peres worked for. The year before Israel declared independence (1948) largely on Palestinian-owned land, Peres was put in charge of personnel and weapons acquisition for the paramilitary force called Haganah. This systematic ethnic cleansing is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe. Hundreds of former Arab villages were destroyed to make room for Jewish villages. Zionist and Israeli leaders were not shy about acknowledging this. In their view Jewish land had to be redeemed and restored to its rightful owner -- the Jewish People -- and the "exiled" had to be in-gathered, no matter the cost to others. This was the Zionist project.
As a member of the Labor Party, Peres also played important roles in creating Israel's Mideast monopoly nuclear-weapons arsenal (unlike Iran it has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty and does not permit international inspections) and in building illegal Jewish-only settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank after the June 1967 war against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. Before that war, he helped administer military rule over the remaining Palestinian Arabs inside Israel. He also forged Israel's military and nuclear alliance with apartheid South Africa.
In 1995 Peres, who maintained that the Palestinians had victimized themselves, became prime minister after Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish fanatic for entering into the Oslo Accords with the Palestine Liberation Organization. (Rabin, like some other Israeli leaders, feared a loss of a Jewish majority in Israel and so favored a rump Palestinian state in parts of the West Bank. Rabin, Peres, and Yasser Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize for this dubious agreement.) In his campaign for prime minister a year later against Benjamin Netanyahu, Peres (who was also defense minister) sought to establish his hawkish credentials by launching a war against Lebanon (which Israel had devastated and occupied for nearly 20 years beginning in 1982). Peres named his war Operation Grapes of Wrath. According to veteran Middle East reporter Robert Fisk:
"The joint Nobel Peace Prize holder used as an excuse the firing of Katyusha rockets over the Lebanese border by the Hezbollah. In fact, their rockets were retaliation for the killing of a small Lebanese boy by a booby-trap bomb they suspected had been left by an Israeli patrol. It mattered not.
"A few days later, Israeli troops inside Lebanon came under attack close to Qana and retaliated by opening fire into the village. Their first shells hit a cemetery used by Hezbollah; the rest flew directly into the UN Fijian army camp where hundreds of civilians were sheltering. Peres announced that 'we did not know that several hundred people were concentrated in that camp. It came to us as a bitter surprise.'
"It was a lie. The Israelis had occupied Qana for years after their 1982 invasion, they had video film of the camp, they were even flying a drone over the camp during the 1996 massacre – a fact they denied until a UN soldier gave me his video of the drone, frames from which we published in The Independent. The UN had repeatedly told Israel that the camp was packed with refugees.
"This was Peres’s contribution to Lebanese peace. He lost the election and probably never thought much more about Qana."
Over 100 civilians were killed. Fisk continued:
"There was a UN enquiry which stated in its bland way that it did not believe the slaughter was an accident. The UN report was accused of being anti-Semitic. Much later, a brave Israeli magazine published an interview with the artillery soldiers who fired at Qana. An officer had referred to the villagers as 'just a bunch of Arabs' ("arabushim" in Hebrew). 'A few Arabushim die, there is no harm in that,' he was quoted as saying. Peres’s chief of staff was almost equally carefree: 'I don’t know any other rules of the game, either for the [Israeli] army or for civilians….'"
This atrocious record -- hardly the record of a humanitarian -- has been cited in critical obituaries of Peres. (Besides Fisk's see critical obits here and here.) But much less noted was Peres's role in helping to pave the road to 9/11.
What possible role could Peres have played in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon? Recall Peres's cynical election-year onslaught against Lebanon and the massacre in Qana. It was his Operation Grapes of Wrath that radicalized key individuals who would plan and carry out those attacks.
As Middle East scholar Juan Cole wrote:
"In 1996, Israeli jets bombed a UN building where civilians had taken refuge at Cana/ Qana in south Lebanon, killing 102 persons; in the place where Jesus is said to have made water into wine, Israeli bombs wrought a different sort of transformation. In the distant, picturesque port of Hamburg, a young graduate student studying traditional architecture of Aleppo saw footage [of the destruction]. He was consumed with anguish and the desire for revenge. As soon as operation Grapes of Wrath had begun the week before, he had written out a martyrdom will, indicating his willingness to die avenging the victims, killed in that operation–with airplanes and bombs that were a free gift from the United States. His name was Muhammad Atta. Five years later he piloted American Airlines 11 into the World Trade Center."
The Egyptian Atta was the leader of the cell in Hamburg and then in the United States without whom the hijacking of airplanes on 9/11 almost certainly could not have happened.
TGIF (The Goal Is Freedom) appears on Fridays. Sheldon Richman, author of America's Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com. Become a Free Association patron today!